Image Source: Flickr. By: Flydime.

Indonesia is making a rather bold move in the realm of renewable energy. How bold? They’ve recently launched a plan to tap volcano power for geothermal energy purposes.

Considering their vast island chain (an archipelago of 17,000 islands) holds hundreds of volcanoes and at least 40% of the world’s geothermal energy potential, this kind of move really makes perfect sense. However, they’ve only been able to tap a small portion of that power and the cost of it all is an issue they are still contending with.

Currently, Indonesia relies on the dirty power of coal. This is mainly because a geothermal plant costs twice as much and can take a number of years in research and development to get up and running. However, once these geothermal plants are fully functional, they’ll be able to convert an endless supply of free volcanic heat into electricity—with lower overheads and less pollution than coal.

So, how are they going to deal with the cost and other issues? Indonesia is seeking help from private investors (as a start), plus others like Japan, the US, and World Bank to help exploit the volcanic power. Indonesian Geothermal Association chief, Surya Darma, said:

“The government’s aim to add 4,000 megawatts of geothermal capacity from the existing 1,189 megawatts by 2014 is truly challenging.”

Indonesia is also hoping this pay-off will sell at the World Geothermal Congress, currently happening at Bali. Energy analyst, Herman Darnel, noted that “an investment of 12 billion dollars is needed to add 4,000 MW capacity”. He also added that “field exploration can take from 3 to 5 years, suitability studies for funding takes a year, while building the plant itself takes 3 years”.

Right now, of the 234 million people who live throughout Indonesia, only 65% have electricity. The good news is the goal of this whole geothermal plan (and other plans) is to supply at least 90% of the population with electricity by the end of the decade. They are hoping to accomplish this through a 2-part “fast-track” plan: The first part will provide an extra 10,000 MW by 2012 (mostly through coal) and the second part will provide an additional 10,000 MW from renewable energy sources by 2014.

On top of that, there is also talk of drilling geothermal wells inside protected rainforests. Why? Apparently, that’s where the best sources lie for geothermal use; although, the geothermal plants will be located outside of the forests. Currently, there is discussion on adding a 340 MW geothermal project to Sumatra. The project (Sarulla) will be Indonesia’s second biggest geothermal plant, after the West Java facility, which was built in 1982.

Indonesia has pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 26% against 2005 levels by 2020. It seems they are slowly on their way. Now, if only something could be done about all that poaching and illegal logging…

By Heidi Marshall